Kris Commons was always an opponent Andrew Shinnie was wary of facing.
Given a yard of space, the midfielder was always likely to produce something special, whether a defence-splitting pass or a trademark left-foot shot which invariably ended up in the back of the net.
So it’s fair to say Shinnie is more than happy to have Commons at his shoulder rather than be constantly looking over it to keep any eye on what he is up to.
And the 27-year-old is also relieved to have seen Hibs boss Neil Lennon bring Commons in on an emergency loan, the Easter Road outfit having been left thin on numbers in the middle of the park.
Lennon hopes John McGinn and Fraser Fyvie will be back in action early in the new year but, with a string of vital matches over the festive period, he turned to his old club to secure the services of Commons, the 33-year-old out of new Celtic manager Brendan Rodgers’ plans.
And, although he hadn’t started a competitive match for ten months, Commons was pitched into action immediately, playing the full 90 minutes against Morton at Cappielow just 24 hours after clinching his 28-day move.
Tomorrow, though, Commons will make his home debut against Raith Rovers, an experience Shinnie believes the former Scotland internationalist will enjoy more than his run-out in Greenock.
He said: “It was probably tough for Kris to come in last week. It’s a tight pitch with no space to work in so he’ll enjoy Easter Road with a bit more time and space.
“We knew Morton hadn’t lost at home since March but we were disappointed with how we played.
“We thought we’d get the ball down and pass it around as we do at Easter Road but it’s a tight ground, they are quite energetic, get in your face and make it difficult – but we could have played better. We know that.
“However, we battled away and got a point without being at our best. We have to try to pick up the performance a bit.”
The loss of McGinn and Fyvie was, though, a mitigating factor insisted Shinnie, with Dylan McGeouch also missing out with an ankle injury although he’s back in Lennon’s squad for tomorrow.
Shinnie said: “When we have a full squad, we’ll be very hard to stop. We’d got into a rhythm with John and Fraser in the middle, we looked a solid team and were winning games.
“Unfortunately, we lost the two of them at one time which would be a big blow to any side. Take the two centre-mids out of any team and they are going to struggle.
“It’s disrupted us unfortunately, but these things can happen in football and Kris will help us.
“Him coming in has given everyone a lift. It’s great to see a player of his calibre come to Hibs.
“We were needing numbers in there because we were struggling a bit. Every game is big for us but we’ve important matches coming up and we need all the bodies we can get so hopefully the injured boys will heal quickly.
“I played against Kris a couple of times when I was at Inverness Caley and I remember one game up there when he hit a left footer into the top corner after only five minutes.
“He’s a very good player, who has had a great career and played some big games for Celtic so he brings a lot of experience to us. He’s always been one of those players you knew if you gave him a bit of time or space you’d be punished because of the quality he has.
“He obviously knows the management team well from their time together at Celtic and no doubt they’ll have spoken about him coming for a wee while.”
Shinnie hopes the presence of Commons will allow him to play a little further forward, the on-loan Birmingham City player admitting he’s disappointed the only goal he has to his name so far came on his debut, the opener in a 4-0 win over Morton in the Capital. Having netted 16 in his second season at Caley, the former Rangers and Dundee player said: “I need to get more goals. I’ve had chances and the keeper has saved them or whatever but I should have had a few more by now.
“I’ll keep working on it. I’ve got into the positions but not taken them although I’d be a bit more worried if I wasn’t getting into those positions.
“Hopefully, I’ll take a chance soon and a few more should come after that. I’d hoped to kick on when I scored against Morton, it was a good start for me, but I know they will come.
“Usually, I play behind the sitters but I’ve had to drop a bit deeper after we lost John and Fraser and then Dylan but I’ll play wherever the manager wants me and I’ll do the best I can.”
Morton boss Jim Duffy admitted after last week’s 1-1 draw with Hibs that his side won’t win the Championship title but, claimed Shinnie, the Greenock outfit and tomorrow’s opponents Raith are among the teams that can influence that race, both clubs having taken points off Lennon’s players and their biggest rivals Dundee United and Falkirk.
He said: “I know fans always say we should be beating this team and that. They believe we should win every game.
“But, if you look at the results throughout the league all season, you will see teams up and down the table have created a few surprises by taking points from the more-fancied sides.
“We had a tough game against Raith at Stark’s Park earlier in the season. They were actually playing quite well until we had Marvin Bartley sent off and then the tide seemed to turn. We got on top but just couldn’t get the goal.
“They’ll be coming to Easter Road trying to win the three points and to give it their best shot. There’s maybe not the pressure on them that there is on us because we want to stay top.”
Lennon believes the move to Hibs has got Commons’ “juices going again”, saying: “I just think he wants to get cracking. I think he has been a good influence around the place. He has that sort of aura or influences of a top player.
“But we do have good players elsewhere, Shinnie, Cummings, Holt, McGregor, Hanlon. Kris is just coming in to add to the quality we already have.
“But obviously a player of his calibre can bring the best out of the rest of the players. We are very pleased to have him here and he is looking to get some game time so it works both ways.”